Given the enduring consistency with which Lee Child delivers sophisticated, gripping novels, you’d think he reads crime fiction and nothing else. Somehow, though, the British author, best known for his Jack Reacher thriller series, finds time for books he groups in the “random” category: “I grew up reading, before the Internet, before book-club culture, before any kind of recommendation network, and I became addicted to random finds—books I had never heard of, fields I had never thought about, avenues I had never explored,” says Child, whose new Jack Reacher novel, Blue Moon, is out now from Delacorte. This addiction has not gone away, and today Child allots about a third of his reading for random books. “True randomness is hard for the human mind to achieve,” he adds, “so lately I have enlisted my wife to bring me finds that are random to her, and thus doubly random to me.” Here, four of her latest successes.
Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee
A 4.6-billion-year geological history of the landmass now called the United States, beautifully written, always engaging, profoundly educational, and overwhelmingly humbling, in that our brief spark of existence really is nothing, compared to what came before and will come after.
When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought, by Jim Holt
Truthfully not 100 percent random, because I already knew Einstein and Gödel, but the book is mostly not about them—it’s about anyone who moved science and math down the field. The Los Angeles Review of Books called it a perfect bedtime book, which it was—the prose is clear and the touch is light; I would read an essay a night, making sure I totally got it, and then I would go to bed. The next morning some of it would come back to me, half-remembered, vague, but somehow magical—everything a great bedtime story should be.
Vacuum in the Dark, by Jen Beagin
Randomly selecting a novel stands a better-than-random chance of coming up with something like this, because this is where the talent is right now, and the passion and the energy and the ideas—whip-smart women writing whip-smart books that are simultaneously deep and funny. Balancing the two is harder than it looks, and Beagin does it better than most. This is her second novel, and I’m looking forward to her third. It won’t be a random find.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold
Jack the Ripper is one of history’s greatest true-crime obsessions. Who was he? Why did he do what he did? That stuff has been debated endlessly. This book, instead, is about his victims. Usually, and conveniently, they have in the past been written out of the story as common prostitutes, but they weren’t, Rubenhold shows us. They were five separate women with five complex lives, and hearing their stories feels like justice done, in a way. Crime is about the victims. Maybe it wasn’t a random choice. Maybe it was editorial input.